On November 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder left his office hoping for a glimpse of President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade as it passed by Dealey Plaza. A Russian Jewish immigrant who wholeheartedly loved his home in America, Abe thrilled at the chance to see the young president in person—and perhaps to bring back a home movie of this once-in-a-lifetime moment for his family.
The twenty-six seconds of Abraham Zapruder’s footage depicting the JFK assassination is now iconic, forever embedded in American culture and identity. The first major instance of citizen journalism, this amateur film forced Abraham Zapruder to face unprecedented dilemmas: How to handle his unexpected ownership of a vitally important yet unspeakably terrible piece of American history? How to aid the U.S. government and, at the same time, fend off the swarm of reporters grasping to purchase the film? How to make the best decisions to ensure the film was safeguarded—but never exploited?
PRAISE FOR Twenty-Six Seconds:
“This well-written exploration of conspiracy, propriety, copyright, and public good versus private gain is seen through the prism of the world’s most famous home movie. Sometimes “personal history” is code for lazy research, but Zapruder (Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust) has doggedly followed the tortured life of her grandfather’s short 8 mm film, which captured the moment of President Kennedy’s assassination, through the shock of witness, media frenzy, FBI fumbling, conspiracy theorists, lawsuits, artists, and Oliver Stone. At the center of the story is Abe Zapruder, who died when the author was an infant. An immigrant from Ukraine, Abe eventually found modest success as a dressmaker in Dallas. For him, J.F.K. was the symbol of American promise, so when he sold his film to Life, it was with the understanding that the magazine would safeguard J.F.K.’s dignity—and give Zapruder $150,000 for it. The movie was sold back to the family for $1, 12 years later, when it became too much of a burden for the magazine. And there it stayed until 1993 when the government seized the film, even though it was on loan to the National Archives. What follows is a dispassionate discussion of how much the film is worth. Zapruder doesn’t shy away from the fact that her family made money from the film, but it was the government that decided the “small, depressing, inconclusive, limited spool of celluloid” was worth $16 million, reaffirming its position as a true relic, one of the few in a secular world.” —Publishers Weekly